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God Damn the Merciless

posted July 29, 2008, 5:12 pm by | Filed Under Editorial, Live Show Reviews | comment 2 Comments


It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and I’m walking up to the Waiting Room which, in an hour, will be playing host to a Battle of the Bands competition. Typically these are proving grounds for bands of youth: those with little experience or facial hair. You will not see School of Arms, The Filter Kings, or Little Brazil at one of these affairs. Those caliber of bands are understandably above these events. Why?

Because the repugnance of these so called Battles of Bands is known all over Benson. Word travels quickly in this small town stuck in the core of a big city. On that dreadful day of the month, when this usually hip venue gets her period and trades all her sexuality for sweat pants and Bonbons, only those who don’t know any better will enter. Well, those and every single friend and family member of each agonizing act.

The place is packed with those who the people of California’s Central Coast would call “Fresnos”, or tourists. None of them are regular patrons and they show none of the same courtesies. The ratio of minors to adults is somewhere around 26:1. Those who can drink, drink a lot but tip next to nothing. A lot of pool is played and the entryway is loaded with Winston smoking grandmothers and the grandkids who occasionally steal one from their purses. The Waiting Room has morphed into a parked traveling carnival with all of the freakish carnies and none of the rides.

The first band eventually takes the stage. They say their name is Dead Summer. The singer looks like a My Chemical Romance reject and his presence has all the confidence of a thirteen year old Jonathan Davis. He tells us where they’re playing next and I wonder if that venue is somehow burdened with a similar obligation as today’s event. “Burdened” is a subjective term I suppose; this occasion has to be making money for somebody. Perhaps it’s only agony for those of us poor saps who have to work it. As expected the band blasts into an uninspired metal riff and the day is off to the races, limping along like a thoroughbred with polio.

Already it’s time for a break.

Outside, it’s still early and Benson’s night shift has yet to take over. Elderly couples walk along the street with their dogs. Middle aged parents with old minivans or fuel saving sedans full of children are returning home from the zoo or leaving for family picnics and reunions. Two of the city’s “hardened” huddle under the shadows of an old building, shading themselves from the sun while sharing the last few drags of a cigarette butt. They notice me looking at them long before I realize it. I’d like to tell them that my stares are not of disgust but of empathy. I’ve never felt that giving a dollar only aids their addictions or that rounding them up off the streets makes the city any cleaner. I’m not going to pretend that these societal refugees and I have anything in common. We don’t share the same life experiences and to assume that I have any idea what it’s like to live on the streets is an insult to their struggle. But I can say that I hold a lot of respect for people whose lives are a daily battle. Regardless of what imbedded them in combat, be it unpreventable hardship or blatant laziness, they fight on and I can’t help but admire that.

The scene inside is far less estimable. The first of what is sure to be many metal bands is wrapping up and already the pubescent masses are darting around the joint with tilted ball caps and hormonally engorged communal boners. The small taste of what it’s like to be an adult, interacting with others in a setting free of parental control, invokes within them a rush that some of them won’t find again until their first line of coke. As one of two members of security today, I get to babysit them while they try to sneak sips of beer or smoke in the bathroom. It’s a tense situation for us that only increases in severity as the day goes on.

Mediocrity or worse is paraded across the stage as the afternoon continues. Most of the bands are of the metal genre and their inspirations are completely transparent. Disciples of Bleeding Through, Unearth, As I Lay Dying, are all on display and all do their idols no justice. However, they are performing serviceable metal. The people they’re performing for are far less critical and are actually enjoying the performances. It all has me second guessing if the minimal success I had in a band when I was younger was just as easily had, and if so, if we were as equally bad and similarly unaware.

Hours of reprimands and removals pass and the last band, Blessed Are the Merciless, is finally prepped to start. I’ve waited five hours for this moment. One more half-an-hour set and I’ll be good to break the hell out of here. Aside from a few minors having to be thrown out for drinking, it’s been a remarkably uneventful afternoon. Annoying but uneventful.

One of the two guitarists slides his pick down the E string signaling the rest of the band to kick into another generic, hardcore intro. Another metal band. No shit? The crowd’s reaction testifies that this is clearly the band that this horde of sexually repressed teenagers came to see. They all begin moshing, slam dancing, and jumping around the dance floor. For me, having grown up in this type of scene, it’s perfectly innocent. Metal shows are infamously aggressive but most have an unwritten code of conduct amongst those who attend them. Malicious violence rarely occurs and a shared level of respect ensures that, should someone fall down, they’re quickly helped up. This standard is upheld here for maybe ten minutes. Sometime around the eleventh minute, immaturity and inexperience pour gasoline over a tense atmosphere and a testosterone filled crowd.

Before instigators can be targeted and removed, the mob of moshers flips into an all out brawl. Punches are landed. Kicks are connected. My partner Marq and I explode mitts first into sadistic madness. Sweat, hair, shoes, it’s a whirlwind of appendages and bodily fluids. We’re pulling kids apart, yelling at them to “Get the fuck back!” and “Calm the fuck down!”

The bassist of the performing band stops the song and yells at the audience to stop fighting.

I want to punch through his face.

I don’t know what’s more ridiculous: the band that performs ultra aggressive music, then demands civility or the savages who throw themselves about wildly and expect no one to push back.

The situation cools slowly and blame is hurled from every mouth that isn’t agape with awe. This guy punched that guy. That guy ran into this guy. It’s all fucking irrelevant and only serves to further enrage two security guards who are simply looking for this entire glorified day care to come to an end. We start randomly pointing at anyone who could have been involved and threaten them with expulsion if we see them even shake another person’s hand. Meanwhile, the band resumes their unoriginal hardcore anthem and the spectators gradually return to their celebration of strife and the hardship of growing pubic hair.

Our door man Jamie appears behind me and asks, “Who needs to get kicked out?”

“Everybody.” I respond and make my way to the perimeter of the crowd.

The set continues, aggressively but without incident. At its conclusion, I leave the crowd immediately and wait over by the bar. I make a silent vow to myself that the minute the winning band is announced every single minor in this place is getting pushed out with a bulldozer.

The irony of this whole situation is that, if I were twelve years younger, I’d be at this show and doing the same shit that I’m now fed up with. Thinking about that makes me feel old for a moment..but only a moment. Then I’m right back to being aggravated with every single little puke in here.

The organizer of the event takes the stage and attempts to quiet everyone down. She has about as much success as an elementary teacher on a playground but once she announces that it’s time to vote, they begin to shut up. She tells them that they’re all going to vote by a show of applause and the band with the loudest response will win and get to come back for the finals.

Finals?

What is this thing, freaking March Madness? You gotta be kidding me.

She begins to recap the bands, starting with our friends Dead Summer. They receive no applause. She continues on up the list and the closer she gets to the headliners, the louder the crowd gets with each band getting a bit more applause than the one prior.

I don’t stick around for the end of the list. There’s no point. I walk outside to the stifling heat and oppressive humidity already knowing who the winners will be.

A few moments of silence, then..

The crowd erupts inside.

I’ll be seeing Blessed Are the Merciless, and the moshing minors they command, next month.

Comments

2 Responses to “God Damn the Merciless”

  1. Profile photo of SolitaryMan on July 30th, 2008 7:13 am

    Now that’s how you write a good concert review. You realize the stuff going on beyond the music matters, especially when the music isn’t doing much for you. I know metal is meant to inspire some angry feelings, but I’ve never been able to understand people’s need to associate that with actual violence. To take swings at strangers, friends, anyone in your way because there’s some people on stage playing fast, aggressive music. I’d hate to see what would happen if an emo band played a show on a bridge.

  2. Profile photo of Alice on September 6th, 2008 12:02 am

    Okay and lets get one thing strait. You say you been around music for a long ass time. Maybe you shoulda known it wasn’t the bass player that was yelling. It was the guitar player. The reason he was yelling to is cuz a buddy of ours that had nothing to do wit the little immature fight was hit.

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